EMBARGO: Not for release before 1.00 am Friday 12th April 2013
I’m a 20+ years moderate to severely affected ME sufferer.
Atos Healthcare have paid out £2,000 + costs (in the process of being finalised) in an out-of-court settlement of a disability discrimination claim arising from an Employment & Support Allowance Work Capability Assessment (WCA) in August 2011. As far as I have been able to find out it is one of the first Equality Act discrimination claims from a benefit claimant that Atos have faced.
I made it clear in the ESA50 form, which is sent out as the first stage of the assessment, that I needed to be able to travel door-to-door in a car or taxi to avoid the assessment having a significant impact on my health because of severe post exertional fatigue and pain.
I was sent to a WCA appointment at the Atos Bradford site, which is in the city centre pedestrian zone, with no disabled parking or drop-off point. The nearest drop-off point is 60m away if you disregard parking, waiting and loading restrictions.
I was amazed when Atos told me in a letter that the ESA50 form – which has a section which specifically asks claimants about their access needs – “is not viewed in detail by the administrative staff, save to link it to the appropriate file on receipt of the completed questionnaire”, and that I should have telephoned to tell them again about my access needs.
All Atos needed to do was refer me to their Halifax or Leeds sites both of which, I have since discovered, are more accessible than Bradford.
It is unacceptable that a government-funded assessment which sick and disabled people, many with mobility problems, have no option about attending takes place in an inaccessible location without disabled parking or a drop off point near the door.
To specifically ask about access needs in the ESA50 form, and then not have adequate processes in place to respond properly to those access needs leaves me totally astounded.
Atos tried to argue that they were not bound by the Equality Act when delivering WCAs, and so did not need to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people, and also tried to claim that I was not disabled, as defined by the Equality Act 2010.
An expert medical report, ordered by the Court, concluded that there was “no doubt” that the impact on my condition [as a result] of the events of 9 August 2011 were “significant”, and that “certainly several steps could have been taken to avoid the exacerbation of symptoms”.
At the WCA I was award 0 points and assessed as fit for work, [the] DWP rubber stamped that advice. It went to appeal where I was placed in support group after a 5 minute hearing – after waiting months on reduced benefit.
Most of the claim/court process I handled myself, The Equality & Human Rights Commission become involved as my legal representatives a couple of months before the settlement was agreed.
My complaint could have been settled earlier on with a proper apology and a commitment from Atos to make the necessary changes to procedures to take into account the individual access needs of claimants.
Sadly, the culture at Atos appear such that they are unwilling to admit mistakes and learn from them. Throughout the process Atos refused repeatedly to commit to make appropriate changes.
I have recently received another ESA50 form to start the whole process again – about 10 months after the appeal decision.
Receiving the ESA50 without warning this morning was a sickening blow leaving me oscillating between utter despair and extreme anger.
How am I supposed to stand any chance of keeping my health stable, let alone managing to improve it, if the DWP are constantly harassing me and thousands of others like me with their revolving door approach to reassessment? This will be my THIRD time through this in 5 years.
In 2008 I went through the same charade of Atos assessment, fit for work, appeal, wait for months, full Incapacity Benefit restored and backdated.
So this will be my third time through the revolving door assessment scam within 5 or 6 years. More profit for Atos and to hell with the health of claimants.
Mr David Johnson
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